Today’s Jewelry Trend segment on our Facebook page focused on stack rings and how this particular manner of wearing finger jewelry can make short fingers appear longer. Our hands are front stage in dealing with the world. They are also the tools we use most throughout our lives.
Hand centered fashion has existed for as long as there have been higher and lower classes in society. Throughout history, fingernails have been the mark of status as much as jewelry. This is true across cultures. In essence, long nails were the mark of the higher classes; individuals not obliged to perform manual labor. Both men and women had long nails. It was a good thing that most of these individuals had servants dressing them, for their nails were so long that they could not even button their own shirts. Shorter nails were the mark of the working class.
Ancient Egyptian rulers had some of the most elaborate manicure tools. Archeologists have uncovered solid gold nail care kits in their tombs.
Powered-based paints were applied to nails throughout history. Nail polish revolutionized this practice, but first we had to invent cars, for nail enamel, as it was originally called, is a by-product of automotive paint. The idea took off like a raving engine in the 1920’s. However, there is a remarkable discrepancy here.
We might imagine that the favored nail enamel color should have matched the bright colors of the new vehicles on the market, but it was quite the opposite. Bright colors, especially red, were associated with the lower class and with girls of ill repute. By 1930, daring Coco Chanel managed to make both red and shorter the mark of a very elegant upper class. It is around this time, also, that artificial nails were developed. These were initially used in the film industry.
The fingernail trends of the 20th century are often compared to the skin trends of earlier times. Fashion historians observe that while pale skin was the mark of wealthy individuals who did not have to toil outdoors, so were long, colorful fingernails the mark of individuals who enjoyed a leisurely life and very seldom, if ever, partook of manual labor. It is interesting to note that nail fashion also changes with living environments. As people migrated away from the land and into cities, nail fashion expanded its reach across social classes.
One of the most famous individuals bearing long and colorful nails was 1984 Olympic spring runner Florence Griffith Joyner (Flo Jo). Her nails were 6 1/2 inches long.